by Nicole Berry
For New Pittsburgh Courier
You went to see your doctor and what you thought was a normal visit turned into receiving a diagnosis of diabetes. Your doctor tells you that your body is not producing enough insulin which is required to convert food into energy. As a result, you have to change your eating habits by eliminating some of your favorite dishes. Exercise should now become a part of your daily routine. You feel alone and unsure of what this all means! As you leave your doctor’s office with pamphlets explaining your condition and advice on how to manage your diabetes, you wonder how you are going to get through this new illness that has seemingly interrupted your life.
The American Diabetes Association reports that more than 1.6 million people in the United States will be newly diagnosed with diabetes this year. Many of whom are unsure of what to do and where to go for help. The good news is there are many organizations and support groups that help diabetic patients understand the disease and educate them on how to manage their condition.
Local support group in your neighborhood
The Centers for Healthy Hearts and Souls is a local Non Profit Organization that provide a host of programs and services for African- Americans with diabetes. Support group meetings are held on a weekly basis in eight locations within various communities. The purpose of the support group is to give participants a forum to discuss their concerns in an outlet that encourages open discussion. They can feel comfortable, asking questions and sharing stories. They receive firsthand advice from the Centers’ medical director Dr. Bruce Bloch and nurse, Jerry Allen who also attend the meetings. The group is empowered with information and can help educate family members about their condition so they too have an understanding of how to provide support for their loved one. “It’s a place for people to feel good about themselves and connect with others that feel the same way,” said Executive Director Mattie Woods. “The message is that you are not alone,” she concluded.
Upon arrival at the meetings, participants are greeted by lay advocates and made comfortable through immediate relationship- building. The meeting begins with a brief positive educational message. Participants have the opportunity to go around the room and discuss how they made it through the week and develop action steps for the upcoming week. They share menu and snack ideas. Some participants may bring food labels for the physician to review and ensure they are in compliance with their meal plans. Participants receive congratulatory applause for reaching their individual goals. Woods explained that she is so excited about the action steps that each participant takes toward following their individual plans. “The members embrace self-efficacy, she stated!”
The support group has been in existence for nine years and gets most of its participants by word of mouth, community centers and churches. All programs are free to the community which is made possible by grant support from Highmark and The Pittsburgh Foundation. The funding also allows the center to offer services of a physician, nurse, and educational material. Meetings are currently held in the Braddock area, Hill District, North Side and Beltzhoover.
(Contact The Centers for Healthy Hearts and Souls directly for specific location and meeting hours at 412-371-3282 or visit their website to learn more about the programs offered. http://www.healthyheartsandsouls.com/)
Circle of Champions national support group
Circle with Champions is a national awareness campaign that provides peer to peer mentoring for diabetic patients to help them manage their blood sugar levels. Proper management helps a diabetic patient know if their current meal plan is working for them and if changes are needed. The American Diabetes Association recommends that blood sugar levels are checked before and after meals. Members of the Circle of Champions are also diabetic patients who have been successful with managing their blood sugar level and are able to provide firsthand mentoring through the sharing of personal experiences.
Angela Younger, a Circle of Champion member from Connecticut was diagnosed in 1993 with gestational diabetes which is found in pregnant women. Due to Younger’s family history, her physicians explained that she more than likely had diabetes prior to her pregnancy. After being diagnosed she was the model patient. She did everything to manage her condition for the safety of her unborn child. After giving birth to her daughter, Younger went into a state of depression and was not able to accept her condition. It was not until she lost her mother due to complications of uncontrolled sugar levels that she began to take her condition seriously by making lifestyle changes. Eating healthy foods and exercise became a part of her daily routine.
As a Nurse Practitioner and Certified Diabetic Educator, Younger now uses her knowledge as a Circle of Champion member to mentor other people with Diabetes. She encourages African-Americans to know their family history. “If someone in your family has diabetes let your physician know during doctor visits,” she urged. There are several tests that can be completed to identify the diagnosis. Younger is part of a network of people from different states whose primary role is to provide support by offering peer to peer mentoring. They travel around the world participating in health fairs and visiting hospital support groups to encourage patients to take control of their condition. Patients listen and appreciate the support because they are also patients and are able to provide firsthand advice on how to live a healthy normal life by making life style changes eating properly, exercising regularly and visiting their physician as scheduled.
(To read about the Circle of Champions and learn their personal stories visit their website at http://www.mydiabetescircle.com/default.aspx.)